It’s one of the clear and present professional dangers, whether you’re someone seeking a position with a new employer, or a firm of any kind seeking to convince a potential client that you, and only you, are the right person for the job.

Like how I weaved that Tom Clancy reference into the first line? Big fan.

Those who will lie about you being the right person to lead their efforts or be part of their organization when, in effect, all they want to do is steal your knowledge and experience.

Sadly, there is often little you can do about it. However, as part of our education to “Always Be Closing”, there are signs that can prevent you from giving away too much.

This is all about trust, the lack thereof, those who are little more than spies seeking to steal your knowledge, individuals and possible clients that walk into every conversation with not one single thought about hiring you. Or anyone else for that matter. All they want is as much as they can get from you, free of charge. After that, they’ll put it to work themselves hiring someone far cheaper than you, or hand it off to someone already in their organization.

Will the work be as good as it would have been were you at the helm? Of course not. They don’t care. They’ll take it at a less professional level and at a far less cost than if they were to hire you.

These are the “knowledge vampire suckers” of our era. They are the most devious of those seeking to use your knowledge without paying, without giving you the credit you’ve earned.  If you’re looking for a new gig or trying to stay in your current one, this poses a difficult question.

How much do you tell them?

Having been in the media industry since Marconi was an embryo, at least it certainly feels that way every now and then, I’ve seen it all and, sad to note, been on the receiving end of more than my fair share of con artists and informational thieves. Being able to tell them apart from those who are sincerely interested in you and your services is the toughest first part of the ride. The second is knowing when you’ve been handed a free pass for the ride, ushered into your seat, and trying to get out without suffering figurative injury.

The first sign you’re being taken for a ride is when they ask, or even infer you might consider, working for free.

Make it as clear as possible you don’t work for free. Period. End of line. Dead stop. The first time someone brings up in conversation how they would prefer you worked on a “larger commission than you could make on a mere salary”, you go directly to the “Always Be Closing” mode.

Make it clear your knowledge has value, you will deliver a level of expertise at a more fair price than they will find anywhere else, and you seek to ensure both parties are working on an arrangement that will benefit everyone. Once you’ve made this clear and they still insist on walking down the path of free, stand up, shake their hand, say thank you and walk out. If on the phone, same thing save, of course, for the human contact.

You’re out. Don’t massage it. Don’t negotiate. They’ve shown you their hand. They will now and forever take greater advantage of you at every turn.

Consider this. Once you’ve worked for free, how do then set a competitive and fair rate for your services? It’s impossible. Never happen. Where once you were free, you are now daring to consider being paid. That fire has consumed any chance of being paid fairly, if at all, for your efforts.

As for the intellectual theft part of this, one of my first rides on the con artist carnival involved a very high-level non-profit “think tank”. A friend introduced me to the person in charge, so I came into the meeting with a good sense of confidence.

Here in America, thousands of organizations seek to pass themselves off as “non-profits”, and are little more than money laundering schemes. Let’s be straight up here. The majority of non-profits are here to do really special, positive acts for those who need the help. Checking out the new ones and finding out about them is an easy task, thanks to the Internet. My advice is do that homework. Thoroughly. Not only that, but if you’re in the dancing phase with them as a potential client and they have nothing to hide, there is nothing wrong with asking for background information to verify who they say they are.

The honest groups will have no issue providing the numbers, as they have nothing to hide. Should they protest, walk away. No questions asked.

My friend and contact for this group was certainly in my corner, but could only go so far, not in a position of real authority. The person on lead was, I later found out to my chagrin, has a reputation of using their title to drain more than a few people and groups who have honorable intentions.

We had about an hour conversation where I laid it all out in their needs for media, marketing, production, strategy and promotion. Tossed in a few new wrinkles. Nailed that interview without a single question and was asked to provide a proposal, which I happily and eagerly did. A few pages brimming with knowledge and ideas that would take what was, at the time, a struggling, rudderless organization, and put them smack on the media map, nationally and internationally.

Six months later, still not a return call. No response to texts or emails. I, of course, tried to be the understanding one in the early process. These things take time, and patience does in deed remain a virtue.

Until you see what happens to the virtuous.

Over a span of a few months, I watched as their website changed. More media was added. Their social media stepped up. Production values were better. Not nearly as good as I would have provided, but when they started at three levels below the ground floor, anything was an improvement.

Every single suggestion I made, every single line of my proposal, was being put to work. Top to bottom.

I had been robbed, plain and simple. Nothing I could do about it, of course. It was all in the proposal stage, where one has to stand out in order to book the client. I had been taken by a con artist, and learned a tough lesson.

Expect to be used every single time. Win or lose, you will never be shocked.

Yes, that’s a terrible thing to put into print. I’m not comfortable even writing it. But it’s true.

The lower your expectations, the less chance there is of being let down. It’s a truly sad commentary, but one that has been proven over generations. Expect nothing. When you get something back, it’s a surprising bonus.

Makes no difference what profession you’re in. Whether you’re employed or working free-lance. The chances are excellent that a good 75% of the people you come into contact with as potential clients or bosses are looking to do nothing more than use you for your knowledge and expertise. In essence, that’s what every job is about. We each bring a particular skill set to a position, and we are asked to share it for the common good for which we should be well rewarded.

However, for some reason, the current hiring model often leans much more towards “what can I get out of this person, how fast can I get it, how cheaply can I get it, and how fast can I jettison them after I’ve sucked them into little more than a dried out husk of a human being?”

As part of the “Always Be Closing” process, you need to understand and accept when you’ve been conned. It’s the only way to learn and be better the next time you’re faced with a similar possibility.

We get excited about the prospect of working in a certain arena. We are confident that we are the best there is at what we do, and we will drive high level results. We see exactly where our skills come into play. Let’s be honest, we also see a nice payday. That’s not about being greedy. That’s about being a realist. Last time I checked, the power company and my mortgage lender doesn’t give one single damn about where the money comes from, and they sure as Hell aren’t about to give anyone a break if they’ve been had by professional con artists.

Read the next few lines very carefully. Go back and read them again. Again. One more time.

There are reputable, professional, excellent people and organizations of character to work with and work for. They are out there and you can become part of their organization with a level of confidence you are valued.

You have to be smart to find them. You have to be prepared to run across more than a fair share of con artists. You have to be ready to not allow yourself to be put in a tight squeeze.

However, the greater issue here that I and so many others are guilty of is, we trust far too much. We want to take in the positive side of human nature at the beginning of every meeting. With the think tank, I was convinced the person in charge was honorable and wanted my help. With the potential, same thing. I trusted both individuals, and I was wrong.

That’s the dividing line we must seek out every time. The one where we decide which side of trust the potential client and employer sits on. It’s a feeling that comes from the gut, and in both of these cases, I allowed something other than my gut to make the calls.

When you are working within your “Always Be Closing” scenario, keep in mind that you may not be able to trust the people you’re dealing with. At times, it’s better to walk into the moment with zero trust as part of your toolkit. Make the trust earned, and your closing will be much more genuine and much more grounded.

Steve Jobs was a genius. Talk to anyone he worked with and they’ll tell you he was also a boorish prick to almost everyone. But he did coin the most used phrase in current human existence about employees.

“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do”.

Learn the difference between those who value what you know, and those who want to steal it.

Give them only enough for a taste. If they want more, tell them that’s what a contract is for. You will be pleased to provide them with a proposal. but make it one page. Seek a refundable consulting fee up front. Make it a 2-3 hour billable proposal, a “roadmap”, if you will. If they sign with you, the cost comes out of their agreement price. If they don’t contract with you, then they have a perfectly good starting point for which to approach someone else.

And you still were paid for your knowledge and experience.

You don’t work for free. You are not here to hand them your knowledge without being compensated.

Have a figurative stake and hammer ready at all times for the knowledge vampires.

Most important, don’t be afraid to use it.